Obama’s inauguration: Antisemitism and the new world order

Antisemitism and the rise of a new world order? Obama’s inauguration

Obama's blindspot: antisemitism

Dr. Clemens Heni, Antisemitism expert at Yale University, raise a concern with historic events

Antisemitism and the rise of a new world order? Obama’s inauguration

By Dr. Clemens Heni, YALE University, ZOTW Special, 7 February 2009

This article was adapted for Zionism On The Web from an earlier version written right before the Obama inauguration.

Obama's desire for direct talks with the fascist regime in Teheran is concerning. During the presidential campaign he said he will talk with Iran without preconditions, and so it will happen. Iran is a state which develops both satellites and nuclear weapons and wants to wipe Israel of the map. At Obama's inauguration speech he rejected the term “War on Terror”. Since 9/11 the Western world has been at war with Islamic Jihad, a war we did not start. Can we really decide make it go away by ignoring it? In Obama’s first TV interview, with an Arabic channel he was silent on the anti-Jewish protests around the world, including the antisemitic rallies at within the US in places like San Francisco, where people compared Gaza with Auschwitz. These incident indicate at best a lack of awareness of antisemitism in the new administration. A lack that reaches right up to the President and was reflecting in the inauguration itself.

Positive reflection on National Socialism used to be a rare thing outside of extremist right wing groups. If someone in Germany were to publicly stated: “I want you to become loyal followers of my religion, just like the Hitler Youth became the loyal followers of Adolf Hitler”, they might still become an invited guest of Germany’s chancellor at some state function, but there would be an outrage. With 25% of Germans, according to a recent poll, saying they see “good sides in National Socialism” such a comment is not as unlikely as it used to be. What is certain, however, is the resulting scandal as critical journalists, activists, politicians, and scholars reacted in horror. What if the same thing were to happen in America?

Barack Obama celebrates his inauguration as the “start, not end, of change in America”. Obama chose Reverend Rick Warren to hold the inauguration prayer on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Warren is the founder and head of the evangelical megachurch Seddleback Church in southern California. He is an outstanding evangelical American personality, and voted one of the leading 100 personalities in the world. He is however often criticized due to his anti- abortion stance, his stance with regards to Judaism, his opposition to same-sex marriages, and his problematic contacts to the government in Uganda – a regime that spreads anti-Jewish comics in public schools.

Even worse than Warren homophobia is his following. Huffington Post’s Bruce Wilson reports that on April 17, 2005, Rick Warren held a worship with 30.000 followers in the Anaheim Angels Sports Stadium in southern California. At this worship he compared the necessity of admiration of Jesus Christ with that of the Hitler Youth in 1939, where they said to Hitler in a Munich Stadium: “We are yours”. Warren wants the people to follow his church (and/or him?), so he prepared thousands of posters with the slogan “whatever it takes”. 30.000 people in that stadium held these posters in blind obedience. The impact and consequence of a prayer service where Hitler is seen as kind of forerunner of the Seddleback Church is alarming. Videos of the gathering are available on the Internet

For Jews and Holocaust survivors, but also for others, it is impossible to refer positively to any aspect of the National Socialism that griped Germany between 1933 and 1945. The veiling of history, ignoring the fact that Jews were for example barred from membership in the Hitler Youth, is in research on antisemitism referred to as “secondary antisemitism”, a term created by Peter Schönbach, a co-worker of Theodor W. Adorno (one of the most important philosophers and social critics in post World War II Germany).

Warren’s way of praying is reminiscent of the German catholic youth movement of the early 1920s. At that time groups like “Quickborn”, later also “Bund Neudeutschland” created open air mass ceremonies to pray for Jesus Christ as their “leader”. The catholic invention of mass prayer in 1920s Germany is part of their anti-individualistic, anti-humanistic, and anti-Jewish ideology. This is reflected in their journals such as “Leuchtturm” and “Werkblätter” as well as other writings of the period. They promoted blind obedience for (their kind of) Catholic Christianity, praying with thousands of followers in public. A lot of the same Catholics of “Bund Neudeutschland” became Nazi party members or active agitators for National Socialism from 1933 and through the early period of Nazi Germany.

Eigth decades later, in the New World, we now see a similar kind of pubic worship as Warren references Hitler and passionate Nazi Germans. He also refers to Lenin, and Mao, but most important is his reference to Hitler, because Germany committed the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust. Even though he says Hitler is “the incarnation of evil”, this is nothing but lip service. The blindness of the Hitler Youth and the willing executioners adult Germans became, are important in understanding Nazi antisemitism. To deny personality and subjectivity, and to plea for an “organic nation body”, in German “Volksgemeinschaft”, are part of the mass policies behind Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Warren calls for “Radicals” in his 2005 prayer, because “moderate people get moderately nothing done….”. There is no doubt about the evangelical impact of every paragraph in Warren’s prayers, the history of evangelical prayers like Billy Graham make this clear. Worse, Warren strengthens the “argument”, that only masses and radicals like Hitler and the Germans, changed the world. The essential part of Hitler and National Socialism is the Holocaust. So it is a kind of antisemitism when Warren refers to Hitler positively, because 1) Hitler was radical, and only “radicals change the world”, 2) the Hitler Youth created people of total obedience, and this is a paradigm for Warren, and 3) the Californian prayer used messages such as “whatever it takes” and had 30,000 followers acting in blind obedience to display these posters. Blind obedience creates a climate in which social conscience is silenced and where racism can thrive.

It is a scandal that Obama invited Warren to lead the inauguration prayer, as Warren wants his Christian followers to be like a Hitler Youth for Jesus. A greater shame is the lack of response from civil society. I remain curious about the political culture of America and what change will really mean.

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External article links

Arabs and antisemitism

The Wikipedia article on Arabs and antisemitism


A Zionism Israel Information Center article on antisemitism and the Jews

External sites about antisemitism

The Coordination Forumfor Countering Antisemitism

The Anti-Defamation League

JAFI resources on Antisemitism

Middle East Antisemitism

International Center for the Study of Antisemitism At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Key references

The following may help you identify antisemitism and other types of racism

EU definition of antisemitism

Used by law enforcement throughout Europe

Behind much criticism of Israel is a thinly veiled hatred of Jews

Emanuele Ottolenghi, in The Guardian on Saturday November 29, 2003

A New Antisemitism

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, June 2002

Blurring the line

Fair critisism or antisemitism? By Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (the ADL), in Haaretz on April 4, 2004

Antisemitism in 3-D

Differentiating legitimate criticism of Israel from the so-called new anti-Semitism. By Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem Post, on February 23, 2004


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